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Rail unions dismayed by government's decision to extend privateers' franchise of CrossCountry services

RAIL unions have hit out at the government’s decision to hand a franchise extension to privateer contractor Arriva to run CrossCountry services for at least three more years. 

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced the move today, adding that taxpayers would continue to shouder the revenue and cost risks associated with the long-distance services until October 2023. 

Arriva, owned by German state railway Deutsche Bahn, has held the CrossCountry franchise, running trains through England, Scotland and Wales, since 2007.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) slammed what it said was a missed opportunity to bring the routes back under public ownership. 

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris boasted that the move was “focused on the best interests of passengers, delivering better services and helping create a new kind of railway,” promising new measures to help passengers with disabilities and increased capacity. 

The company, which described the  decision as “great news” for stakeholders, will continue to receive what is effectively a management fee since passenger numbers plummeted as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash  warned that the union would look carefully at the deal, and that its priority would be “to protect the jobs, pay and conditions of our members.”

Mr Cash said: “The government, who are financially supporting the train operators, should have seized the opportunity to cut out the middle man and bring the CrossCountry operation into direct public ownership.”

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association also criticised a “missed opportunity” to bring key rail services into public ownership.

General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “At a time of a national crisis, simply lining the pockets of privateers for three more years is neither a good look or sound economic judgement.”

The announcement comes as RMT members working on Serco-run Caledonian Sleeper services prepared for further strike action in their safety dispute with the contractor after it refused to move on the union’s welfare demands.

In a note to members earlier this week, Mr Cash said that Serco had rejected a “reasonable resolution” to a dispute that centres on its failure to address serious problems of fatigue.

Mr Cash said that the “only way to get management to resolve these issues immediately” would be by taking further industrial action.

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